Bucknell Arboretum - Species Information

White Oak

Beech family, Flowering plants

Latin Name: Quercus alba
   Family: Fagaceae, Magnoliophyta

Map of this species

Height: typically 80’-100’

Bark: Whitish or ashy gray, varying from scaly on smaller stems to irregularly platy or blocky on large stems. On older trees smooth patches are not uncommon.                        

Leaves: 4”-7” long; alternate, simple, oblong to ovate in shape; 7 to 10 rounded, finger-like lobes, sinus depth varies from deep to shallow, apex is rounded and the base is wedge-shaped, green to blue-green above and whitish below.

White oak is a deciduous species of wide distribution across the Eastern United States. The west slopes of the Appalachian Mountains and the Ohio and central Mississippi River Valleys are home to optimum conditions, but the largest trees have been found in Delaware and Maryland on the Eastern Shore.

It is an outstanding tree capable of growing very large – over 100 feet tall and up to 50 inches in diameter – and can live for 3 to 5 centuries. It is reknowned for its high-grade  and versatile wood, acorn production for wildlife, and picturesque stature in old age. White oak lumber is used for beams, railroad ties, bridge planking, mine timbers, flooring, furniture, veneer, and barrel staves. Over 180 wildlife species have been reported to use its acorns for food, attracting squirrels, mice, chipmunks, raccoons, bluejays, crows, woodpeckers, turkets, quail, ducks, and deer. It is an excellent ornamental tree because of its broad round crown, dense foliage, and purplish-red to violet-purple fall color.

Ecological Information
from Prasad et. al. 2007

Guild: persistent, large-seeded, advance growth dependent
Functional Lifeform: large deciduous tree
Ecological Role: common upland oak found in mixed forests on dry ridge tops, upper slopes and rich coves; persists for long periods, but shade tolerance declines as trees grow large; responds well to release
Lifespan, yrs (typical/max): 300/600
Shade Tolerance: intermediate
Height, m: 24-30
Canopy Tree: yes
Pollination Agent: wind
Seeding, yrs (begins/optimal/declines): 20/75/200
Mast Frequency, yrs: 4-10
New Cohorts Source: seeds or sprouts
Flowering Dates: late spring
Flowers/Cones Damaged by Frost: yes
Seedfall Begins: early fall
Seed Banking: up to 1 yr
Cold Stratification Required: no
Seed Type/Dispersal Distance/Agent: nut (acorn)/ to 50 m/ gravity, birds, other animals
Season of Germination: fall
Seedling Rooting System: taproot
Sprouting: seedling and stump sprouts common
Establishment Seedbed Preferences:
Substrate: loose soil or humus, with litter cover
Light: overstory shade
Moisture: neutral
Temperature: 10 - 16C favors germination
Disturbance response:
Fire: White oak is well-adapted to periodic fire. It is unable to regenerate beneath the shade of parent trees and relies on periodic fires for its perpetuation. Fire exclusion has inhibited white oak regeneration through much of its range. Periodic fires in upland oak systems promote oak dominance by opening the canopy and reducing competition. Fires in upland forests tend to be low- to moderate-intensity and short in duration. Fires primarily occur during the dormant season at frequent intervals (once or more per decade to several decades). White oak is moderately resistant to fire, possessing thick, rough, scaly bark and deep roots. It becomes more fire resistant with age as bark thickens. When topkilled, seedlings and saplings readily and persistently sprout from the root crown or stump. Small fire scars are rapidly compartmentalized and damage is usually limited. Fire promotes seedling establishment by creating favorable seedbeds and reducing competition. However, acorns present during the fire are usually killed. Seedling establishment may occur from seeds of surviving trees onsite or from offsite seeds carried by birds and other animals. Low-intensity prescribed fire has been used successfully to promote white oak advanced regeneration.
Weather: White oak is moderately resistant to ice breakage, but sensitive to flooding.
Air pollution: White oak is intermediate in sensitivity to sulphur dioxide and sensitive to ozone. Variable foliar injury has been observed under high ambient ozone conditions; no injury was noted under controlled fumigations.
Exotics: Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) is a defoliator of eastern hardwood forests, introduced to Massachusetts from France in 1885. It has spread throughout New England into Virginia and Michigan. Defoliation causes growth loss, decline, and mortality. It feeds on many tree species, but Quercus and Populus are the most susceptible taxa, and trees growing on xeric sites are the most vulnerable. Various efforts have been made to control it, with mixed results. A fungus, Entomophaga maimaiga introduced from Japan causes considerable mortality to gypsy moth populations. E. maimaiga levels are promoted by damp weather.


Prasad, A. M., L. R. Iverson., S. Matthews., and M. Peters. 2007-ongoing. A Climate Change Atlas for 134 Forest Tree Species of the Eastern United States [database]. http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/atlas/tree, Deleware, OH: USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station.


Information provided by Chad Lawlis ‘11

Photos of White Oak on the Bucknell Campus


Photos courtesy of the Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation



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